Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
John Grisham is a name needing no introduction for fans of legal thrillers, by numerous metrics being one of the most successful writers in the genre, an achievement he rightfully deserves. In The Judge’s List, the second book in The Whistler series, he blends his craft with murder mystery, sending investigator Lacy Stoltz on the trail of a serial killer, with her main suspect being a sitting judge.
Table of contents
John Grisham Plants the Rotten Seed
The law is something we’ve all come to trust, or at least rely on in our daily existence. By consequence, no matter our what our personal opinion might be of those working in regards to the enforcement and application of the law, we expect them to have a minimum level of integrity… that is to say, not to be criminals themselves. In The Judge’s List, the second novel in The Whistler series, John Grisham drags us into a case where a judge defiles the sanctity of the law.
On her previous case, Lacy Stoltz came head-to-head with a corrupt judge and a crime syndicate, resulting in her very nearly losing her life. Three years have passed since then, and now approaching the terrifying age of forty, she feels it’s time for a change from her work for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct.
At this crucial stage in her life she makes the acquaintance of a mysterious woman going by the name of Jeri Crosby, as well as a bunch of other aliases. Twenty years ago her father was murdered in what remained an unsolved case, but Jeri has a suspect she has been obsessively studying over the years. What’s worse, she believes there have been other victims along the way.
The suspect in question is a sitting judge, brilliant, patient and calculating. While it’s easy enough to cast shadows of doubt, obtaining proof against the man seems completely impossible, especially with his knowledge of police procedures and the law itself. Lacy’s only entry into the equation is the fact he works in Florida and is under her jurisdiction.
She has to muster all of her cunning and originality in order to get close to the man and find what’s been eluding Jeri for two decades now, but the danger is all too real. The judge has a titular list he keeps, of people who have wronged him over the years, and sooner or later, he ensures his own brand of justice triumphs above all.
Hunting an Elusive Predator in The Judge’s List
To start things off, while this might be the second novel in The Whistler series, it functions very much as a standalone, with the two books essentially only sharing the main character. While I’d recommend you have a look at it if you’re a fan of Grisham‘s works, it’s certainly not mandatory.
With this being said, the novel opens rather quickly, giving us little time to get acquainted with the characters or the setting, plunging us straight into the case with Lacy already being quite sure of who the culprit is. Grisham never keeps it a mystery, making a rather obvious statement that this story is all about the chase after an insidious and elusive foe, promising to push the main character to her limits.
While there are indeed moments where the story slows down to some extent, they are far and few in-between, with the story being paced in the traditional thriller style, that is to say, a large number of shorter chapters. The brunt of The Judge’s List is spent on advancing the story, and he does so in both a traditional and less conventional way.
For starters, the game of cat-and-mouse played between Lacy and the judge is legitimately thrilling, especially since both parties are a danger to the other. The threat is real on both sides and the stakes are made quite clear from the very start, making it feel like more and more of a race as we get deeper into the story and they get closer to each other.
Second, our perspective changes on a number of occasions from one character to the next without too much of a warning, besides the heading for a new chapter. Grisham uses this tool to its full potential, giving us the possibility of grasping a few small pieces of the puzzle Lacy isn’t necessarily privy to, thereby encouraging us to think along our own lines, rather than simply following the main character’s deductions.
The Structures of Law and Man
As I mentioned before, the brunt of the focus is indeed dedicated to advancing the story, but this doesn’t mean Grisham skirts on character development or fails to provide insight into the inner workings of the law. On the contrary, he has become exceptionally good at weaving those elements into the plot, as well as making the most out of the moments where the action does indeed slow down for a chapter or two.
For starters, even if you have no idea who Lacy Stoltz is, by the end of the novel you’ll have a fairly good idea of the kind of woman she is. She certainly isn’t perfect and remarkable in every way, but on the contrary, is a flawed human being with both strengths and weaknesses. Naturally, she’s not a complete dolt and is gifted at what she does, but she feels a whole lot more relatable than the types of sterile-perfect protagonists becoming increasingly prominent in modern media.
We also learn a fair deal about her personal life, her relationships, and all which comes along with it. While generally I’m not a huge fan of authors plugging in character development which strays from the main plot, in this case it’s handled with class and awareness, not to mention it’s likely necessary to some extent considering she’s the protagonist in an ongoing series.
Apart from the main character, the other people in the story do feel like they’re around to fulfill roles more than anything else, and if I had one gripe with The Judge’s List it’s that I would have liked to see some of them developed a little further. However, they do serve their purposes to perfection, and I had no trouble accepting them as they were.
Finally, we get some interesting excursions behind the scenes of law enforcement and judicial procedures. Thankfully, Grisham never overwhelms us with pointless details and laws we’ll never remember, carefully curating what we need to know for the purposes of the story. He knows how to make these detours as interesting as any other element in the novel, and a little bit of extra education is something I’ll never turn down.
|368||Doubleday||Oct. 19 2021||978-0385546027|
The Final Verdict
The Judge’s List by John Grisham is a worthy follow-up to The Whistler and has the author mixing the legal thriller and murder mystery genres to create and interesting and pulse-pounding game of cat-and-mouse between a determined investigator and lethal opponent.
If you’ve enjoyed the author’s works in the past, or are simply looking for a legal thriller solid in every aspect and with a good mystery at its core, then I believe you’ll enjoy this latest offering from Grisham.
John Grisham is an American lawyer, politician and author whose works have always been largely centered around the legal world. Many of his novels have been adapted into films, including The Firm, The Rainmaker and A Time to Kill. In 2005, he was the recipient of the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award.